Cheese talks to himself (about the Game Masters events and exhibition)

This week, I've been given the opportunity to attend an exhibition and series of events put on by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image called Game Masters.

In addition to an exhibition detailing and celebrating the works of influential game designers (such as Peter Molyneux, Warren Spector, Hideo Kojima, Tim Schafer, Shigeru Miyamoto and more), I'll be attending several side events, including a two day series of panels titled "The Forum" and full evening talks by Warren Spector, Tim Schafer and Peter Molyneux (the latter of which has sadly been cancelled).

Day One: Peter Molyneux and The Best of the IGF 2012

Initially I'd booked my tickets to Melbourne with the expectation that I would be attending an evening talk by Peter Molyneux. Unfortunately, he was unable to make it and the event was cancelled.

The AMCI building in Federation Square

In spite of boarding a later flight than intended (which was in turn delayed), we managed to still have time to scope out Federation Square and the ACMI building (which I'd never visited before) as dusk settled in. Whilst there, I decided to check out a free exhibition titled The Best of the Independent Games Festival 2012, where a selection of IGF finalists and nominees are being showcased until the 8th of July for the public to play and enjoy.

Though I'd heard of all the games at least in passing, this was my first chance to sit down and play many of them. The broadness and calibre of what independent developers can achieve never ceases to amaze me, and though the term "indie" is fairly vague (many games considered to be "indie" have at some time or another been supported, sponsored or published by a third party), as an aspiring/part time game developer and an "industry commentator" (according to the Wikipedia page for Desura) the idea that there is some amorphous institution where making-a-good-game-that-isn't-samey is both celebrated and encouraged is reassuring and empowering.

Of the titles being displayed, Proun, Fez, and Proteus stood out as especially interesting (though perhaps only because I was less familiar with them than games like Botanicula, Dear Esther and Frozen Synapse). Proun's arcade style reflex based gameplay and stylised geometric visuals were something I'd been excited about in the leadup to its release, but somehow I managed to lose track of it. After spending a short amount of time, I can see my inial instincts were correct and Proun is truly worthy to stand amongst the other IGF nominees. Currently an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive title, Fez is not a game I've been giving a lot of attention to, but its mechanics and style have drawn my eye on a number of occasions. Having had some hands-on time with it, I can see why it walked away with the IGF's Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Of all the titles displayed though, Proteus fascinated me the most. It is a conflictless, contextless, challengeless audio/visual environment for players to explore and nothing more. I honestly didn't get enough time to get a true feel for this game (if it can be described as such - after watching Brian Moriarty's GDC 2012 talk, I'd be tempted to call it a "toy" instead), though its premise and presentation have definitely piqued my interest.

In addition to PC and Xbox games, there were a number of mobile titles being displayed on iPads. I don't normally pay a lot of attention to gaming on mobile platforms, but it was definitely interesting to see titles such as Fingle making use of the underlying hardware that wouldn't really translate to more traditional gaming platforms.

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Day Two: The Game Masters

Warren Spector, Rob Murray, Tim Shafer and Head of Exhibitions Conrad Bodman

It was fairly chilly in Melbourne this morning when I ventured out across Federation Square to the ACMI building. I'd arrived a little early and spent some time chatting with (other?) journalists and ACMI staff. I have to admit, I was a little nervous going in. This being my first in-person event, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but once in, it didn't seem so daunting, and I even took up a mic to ask a question during the press conference.

It was truly interesting to hear the perspectives of three game development industry figures with such wildly different perspectives and outlooks, and the thoughts of ACMI Head of Exhibitions Conrad Bodman.

Introduced first was CEO of Australian mobile developer Firemint, Rob Murray, who is responsible for titles like Flight Control, Real Racing and Spy Mouse. In a time when the Australian game development industry is in a state of flux, Rob has managed to grow Firemint to a stable and successful studio (so successful that they were recently acquired by EA).

The Indies section of the Game Masters exhibition

Next up was Warren Spector of Disney Interactive, whose work on Epic Mickey (and Epic Mickey 2 already) has garnered worldwide attention and acclaim. Warren has worked on over 20 games in his carrer - well known for his work with Origin Systems (Wing Commander, Ultima VI) Looking Glass Studios (Thief, System Shock) and Ion Storm Austin (Deus Ex, Thief: Deadly Shadows), and is one of the most prolific game designers in the industry.

The final game developer answering questions was Tim Schafer, head of Double Fine (Psychonauts, Brütal Legend, Stacking, Happy Action Theatre), who has popularised crowdfunding with the record breakingly successful Double Fine Adventure, and has recently had a game featured in the Humble Indie Bundle V. Tim spent his early career at LucasFilm Games (later LucasArts), where he worked on classic and revolutionary adventure games such as Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.

The three developers talked about the turning points in their careers, the collaborative nature of game development, and their approaches to managing teams.

iPhone has just changed the world for us... I just absolutely love the idea of running into people on the bus actually playing my game at that very moment. - Rob Murray

I had written down half a dozen questions to ask that addressed things such as the culture of violence in games, presentations of gender and sexuality, the importance of cross-platform support, differences between communities on different platforms, the value of DRM and the impact of piracy, but when I was handed a mic to ask the last question, I decided to ask something a little less sensational, and queried the three developers about how they believe game design and game development have evolved over the past twenty-plus years.

Everything is about monetisation, bringing people back and keeping people playing your game because you don't want them playing the competition's game. It's like, we have to keep people playing for three years now? I want you playing for about ten hours and then moving on to something else. It's hard to get that across to people now. - Warren Spector

The answers that Rob, Warren and Tim gave were diverse and exposed interesting facets of an ever changing industry. Warren talked about the emergence of game design as a discipline over the past ten to fifteen years, and how game development has split into so many different roles as games have grown in complexity and resource requirements. He also touched on the industry's progressive fixation with monetisation of ongoing gameplay and the pressures that places on players and developers. Rob talked about how game development processes and the roles within have been slowly demystified and made accessible to aspiring developers, and how that might continue to evolve. Tim talked about how the ability for greater dialogue between developers and communities has grown, and the pros and cons that has on making games.

Tim and Warren also touched on the changes in attitudes toward getting stuck in games, and how playtesting provides a double edged sword by helping to identify significant problems, and the tendency to overcompensate for players getting stuck at the cost of challenge.

And that can go too far. There's not a tolerance for games that make you feel confused or stuck at all. - Tim Schafer

Following the press conference, we were invited to preview the Game Masters exhibition, where over 120 playable games developed by inspirational and influential figures are being displayed.

The Sconic Team exhibit in the Game Masters exhibition

Divided up into three areas, the Game Masters exhibition first showcases arcade era games in a section titled "Arcade Heroes", looking at key titles such as Asteroids (Ed Logg), Donkey Kong (Shigeru Miyamoto) and Missile Command (Dave Theurer) within the contexts of their respective authors. Moving on to cover more modern games the second section of the exhibition titled "Game Changers" highlights developers who have had profound impacts upon the industry such as Will Wright (Sim City and Sims franchises as well as Spore), Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft, Diablo and Warcraft franchises), Peter Molyneux (Populous as well as Dungeon Keeper, Black & White and Fable franchises) and Sonic Team (Sonic The Hedgehog game franchise). The final section of the exhibition, called "Indies", focuses on independent game developers and their labours of love, including Erik Svedäng (Blueberry Garden), Eric Chahi (Another World, From Dust) and Thatgamecompany (Journey).

I also spent some time chatting with (and played a touch table based two player Pong game that I can't recall the name of against) Phil Larsen from Australian developer Halfbrick Studios (creators of Fruit Ninja) about development of Fruit Ninja, and the difficulty of prioritising Linux ports.

I'm planning to attend the exhibition again and get a feel for how normal visitors experience and flow through the exhibits, and I'll write more about that then.

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Day Three: The Forum and Warren Spector

My third day of attending the ACMI's Game Masters exhibition and related events started on a sour note as I awoke to news that I'd somehow managed to miss a red carpet opening event for Game Masters last night at which Tim Schafer and Warren Spector apparently gave awesome speeches and free lollypops made of rainbows to passers by.

Warren Spector, Rob Murray, Ted Baillieu an Tim Schafer playing Real Racing 2 HD.

That slight disappointment was paled by the opportunity that I had had yesterday morning to speak briefly to Warren Spector (whom I thanked for his involvement in the Thief series before he was appropriated to play Real Racing 2 HD with Rob Murray, Tim Schafer and Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu) and Tim Schafer (who thanked me for being a backer, and briefly exchanged Linux anecdotes before he was hastily whisked away) individually - something I neglected to mention in yesterday's summary.

I trotted through a much warmer morning for an 8:30am start of Game Masters: The Forum's first day. The panel schedule featured State of Play (discussing the current state of the game development industry from both Australian and worldwide perspectives), Beyond Sloganism (looking at how game design methodologies and insights are making their way out into non-entertainment industries), and Games & Cultural Spaces (talking about games' emerging social recognition as valuable and worthwhile cultural content).

The State of Play panel was originally slated to include Peter Molyneux, a veteran game developer whose carreer has seen him grow two independent studios (Bullfrog Productions and Lionhead Studios) into industry recognised development companies, has worked for both Electronic Arts and Microsoft, and has most recently struck out on his own again, to form a currently experimental startup called 22Cans.

With Peter unavailable for the event, the keynote slot was filled by two independent developers, Daniel Cook from Spry Fox and Nathan Vella of Capybara Games, video conferencing remotely from the other side of the world.

Daniel's keynote looked at game design as a process of invention and games as engines of applied psychology rather than a traditional artistic medium. Daniel also talked about why an invention driven approach to game development can bring increased efficiency, provide product differentiation, and potentially seed new markets. I managed to get a question in about how Spry Fox try to balance in-production feedback on innovative projects and what hurdles they've encountered trying to discern the difference between what is just unknown and what is inherently unusable.

Every major advance comes from a designer who is also an inventor. - Daniel Cook

Nathan's presentation was interrupted several times when the video conferencing app's muting of the relayed echo of Nathan's voice (which the empty podium mics were picking up) got in sync with stuff that Nathan was saying, causing audio drop outs (note to future video conferencing presenters considering using Skype: get the other side to mute their mic, or put on headphones).

Technical difficulties aside, Nathan spoke about his experiences with growing Capy from a pre-smartphone mobile game developer into the recognised indie studio they are today. Nathan also listed three issues he can see on the horizon of game development that have potential to shape the industry: exploration of new "free to play" models, the increased mainstream acceptance of weird indie games, pushing the weird indie game space out into unimaginable weirder areas, and the arrival of tools and workflows that can empower small teams to produce triple-A titles. I asked Nathan what impact he felt the Humble Bundle promotions had for both highlighting specific indie games, and bringing indie games in general to broader markets.

[We're starting to see] weird shit become pretty normal. If games like [J.S.] Joust are normal, what will the weird games be? - Nathan Vella

After saying goodbye to Nathan and Daniel, the discussion panel itself started, with Rob Murray (Firemint), Steve Fawkner (Infinite Interactive), Tony Reed (Game Developers' Association of Australia) and Laura Parker (Gamespot) talking about the evolution of game related media coverage, the current role of publishers within the industry, and the pros and cons of current "free to play" models.

The day's second panel, Beyond Sloganism, featured Morgan Jaffit (Defiant Development), Marigo Raftopoulos (Strategic|Games|Lab) and Justin Brow (60Sox), who discussed the role of games and game design sensibilities outside of the entertainment industry. The panel also discussed the ways in which bringing game design style approaches to workplaces can help increase the engagement of workers in a world where a huge disparity between work and play exists, how games can assist with training, education and learning in general, and the finer points of Pokémon husbandry (thanks to panel chair, David Surman of Pachinko Pictures).

Diblo 3 demonstrating how DRM can hinder the exhibiting of games.

Games & Cultural Spaces, the third and final panel of the day, focused on how games exist within culture and the importance of collecting, cataloguing and chronicling games for posterity. Featuring Conrad Bodman (ACMI Head of Exhibitions and man behind the earlier Game On exhibition), Ricardo Peach (Inter-Arts at the Australia Council for the Arts), Linda Pitt (State Library of Queensland) and Paul Callaghan (Freeplay Independent Games Festival), this panel delved into the reciprocal impact of exhibitions like Game On and Game Masters on the cultural permeation and recognition of games, the hurdles of recording the history of a young, technology driven medium, and how interactivity can enhance knowledge institutions such as libraries. At the end of the session, I asked the Conrad and Linda (who have both been involved with collecting and exhibiting games) whether or not they had encountered or could foresee software integrated DRM as being a hurdle to collecting, maintaining and exhibiting games, but with DRM being comparatively new and most game development companies employing DRM measures currently contactable and friendly, it is yet to be an issue either of them had encountered (though I did notice a friendly server disconnection notice on a Diablo 3 display yesterday when I toured the exhibition).

And so the first day of Game Masters: The Forum ended. My day wasn't over though, and after an early evening walk and a quick bite to eat, I returned to the ACMI to attend an interview with Warren Spector conducted by Paul Callaghan titled In Conversation With Warren Spector.

Through two hour plus interview, Warren recollected and reflected on his career, the games he has worked on, and his personal feelings towards the game industry.

Games are the most beautiful medium. - Warren Spector

We were shown a trailer for Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, and told how the game is being treated as an experiment to test the viability of musical (as in a musical production) elements in games. Warren talked about the surprising level of creative freedom he is given at Disney Interactive, and how working with Mickey Mouse has been a joy.

Warren shared with us how he abandoned his original aspirations to become a film critic, and moved through board games to eventually work with Origin Systems.

It's sad that the best conversation mechanic today is functionally identical to what we were doing in 1994 with the addition of a timer. - Warren Spector

The topic then turned to how Warren makes games and sees game design. He told us that he envies prominent game designers such as Will Wright, and Tim Schafer, who he sees as brilliant and inspirational designers, and feels that rather than creating compelling simulations and stories from scratch, his inspiration instead comes from combining existing ideas that seem like unusual or impossible matches. Warren also told us that he often makes games in response to other games. For example, Deus Ex was born out of a desire to create a game that could allow for both stealth based and combat based gameplay in contrast to Thief (a game which Warren produced and told us he deeply loves), which forced players to play stealthfully by underpowering offensive weapons.

Warren told us how important he believes passion is, and how he supported the development of Crusader: No Remorse in spite of not "getting" the game, simply because the designer who pitched it so passionately believed in the project.

Great games come from people with passion. - Warren Spector

In the wake of his recent commentary on the culture of violence in games, Warren took some time to clarify his position. He told us that he didn't really care whether or not people made ultra violent games, and that his real concerns were the appalling way in which this year's E3 was dominated by excessively violent games and violent presentation of games, when this really doesn't reflect the true breadth, diversity and maturity (in Warren's eyes, the kind of violence we see dominating the public face of gaming is immature and in bad taste) of the game development industry.

The highlight of the evening came when Warren's mind was blown as an audience member asked if his tendency to create games in response to other games was indicative of a subtle fulfilment of his original aspirations to become a critic.

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Day Four: The Forum, Tim Schafer and the Double Fine Community

Having gotten a (comparatively) decent night's sleep, I was geared up and ready for the long day ahead when 8:00am rolled around.

Part of the queue for the second day of Game Masters: The Forum.

Whilst waiting in line to be seated for the morning's first session, another backer of Double Fine's recent Kickstarter project came up to me and said hi. Several days earlier, some of us on the Double Fine forums had suggested that it would be good to meet up and say hi in person. We had scheduled this to happen prior to the evening's autograph session, but I had bumped into several other Double Fine fans/backers over the previous couple of days, and it was good to make some extra contact.

The first session of day two of Game Masters: The Forum was a discussion with Tim Schafer about the role of story within games and game design, as well as how he manages his own creative processes. Tim recounted a history of his inspirations and story development, showing that for him, developing a game's story is about locking on to any resonating themes, characters, mechanics, scenes or styles (with wildly different combinations for every project he has worked on), and exploring them via a freewriting technique he was taught in high school.

Tim talked about how tools such as social networking frameworks helped him to develop well defined characters. Double Fine also makes use of internal forums as well as Google Docs help communicate ideas to the teams of people working there, and facilitate effective feedback and communication on game concept elements and issues.

There's really no such thing as writer's block. That's just "not working." - Tim Schafer

The first panel session of the day, Creativity & Commerce, featured David Surman and Ian Gouldstone (Pachinko Pictures), Scott Reismanis (Desura, ModDB, IndieDB and IndieRoyale), Phil Larsen (Halfbrick Studios) and Tim Schafer (Double Fine) talking about whether or not there is a relationship between commercial and creative interests when it comes to game development, and whether that relationship is a positive or negative one.

The general consensus was that though there is no inherent conflict or synergy between these two diverse aspects of game development, but it can be detrimental for development studios to try to focus on both as equal top priorities.

Looking at how funding models impact on creative process, Tim talked about the three different funding types Double Fine makes use of: traditional publisher deals, which offer a degree of stability and security at the cost of the effort of constantly liaising with a third party whose priorities and goals may change over time; community finding via Kickstarter for the Double Fine Adventure; and angel investors.

Ian spoke about how creating good content and games is inherently collaborative, and to create something that transcends ego, a developer must show their work to peers or others for feedback and criticism, and put forward that collaborative arrangements with publishers don't necessarily have to be different.

I think you can get creative control in any situation if you're willing to put in the time to fight for it or negotiate for it. - Tim Schafer

Tim also mentioned that the "creative control" that he feels he loses when working with publishers is control over his own creative time, and the ability to work to his own timelines rather than control over creative output.

Other topics discussed included making use of analitics and targeting demographics, usability and playability testing as balance mechanisms between creativity and commercial viability, and the opportunities, pitfalls and risk of exploitive gameplay in "free to play" models.

Australian Story, the second panel of the day, focused on narratives of the Australian game development industry, with successful Australian developers John Passfield (Red Sprite Studios), Tony Lay (EA Mobile, IronMonkey Studios), Matthew Hall (KlickTock) and Steve Fawnker (Infinite Interactive) bringing their perspectives of and insights into the history and current state local industry.

John told us about the Australian industry in the 1980s, and the unique opportunities Australian developers had to receive influences from both the UK and the USA, when other regions across the world were more insular. John also talked about his 3D platformer Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, which was the result of an effort to make a game that captured an Australian essence.

Steve recounted how early Australian developers actively hid their origins, even to the extent that Melbourne House had set up a one-man office in London to provide a UK address. By contrast, John remarked on how modern technology allows relationships with overseas acquirers, stakeholders and publishers to be surprisingly positive these days.

Making a game is the best game of all. - Steve Fawkner

Discussion ranged from exploring the notion of Australian style in game development (which most panel members seemed to believe was represented in work ethics and drive rather than content), through to why triple-A contracts are rarely awarded to Australian developers.

After a lunch break, the final panel session of Game Masters: The Forum, The Collectors began.

As Warren Spector (Disney Interactive), Helen Stuckey (curator and academic), Susan Corbett (Victoria University of Wellington), and Dr. Winfried Bergmeyer (Berlin Computerspielemuseum) discussed their experiences with trying to preserve, catalogue and chronicle the history of the gaming industry and the games themselves, a depressing picture where this emerging and rapidly evolving cultural medium is being crushed from both sides by non-digital friendly legislature and the degradation of older gaming hardware and media. Combined with the lack of priority many developers place on archiving and storing design documentation, source code and other materials related to individual games' development, this is a increasingly significant issue.

Warren, a hobbyist collector and archiver, lamented the lack of gaming oriented archives and institutions for individual collectors to donate their works to, and talked about how emulation is a potential saviour for games whose hardware no longer exists or is not serviceable.

Helen talked about how the lifespan of gaming hardware is so unknown and how modern media and hardware have not been around long enough for a full understanding or study of their long term robustness. Helen also lingered on the value of preserving player narratives, and posed questions about the roll and preservation value of user created content, mods and derive works.

You don't own history, right? You're just the caretaker. - Warren Spector

Susan gave a look at some examples of how current copyright legislature doesn't take into account digital mediums and digital technology, particularly when it comes to museums, archives and collections. For example, New Zealand copyright law makes exceptions for archives (specifically, not museums or collections hosted by other types of organisations) to create a single copy of a work when the original is in danger of degradation, but only gives permission for that copy to be displayed on the archive's premises, effectively preventing online showcasing. Susan highlighted how copyright law relating to orphaned works was inherently inappropriate for digital mediums, with restrictions in place that prevent works from being properly archived until well outside the lifespan of old 5 1/4" floppy disks or game cartridges, effectively guaranteeing the loss of the gaming heritage that video game historians and archivists are attempting to protect. It is poetic that the last hope for these artefacts falls to hobbyist archivers operating outside the law, and all panel members highlighted how worthwhile and important contributions from these people have been.

Winfried gave a presentation about the Computerspielemuseum in Berlin, a museum dedicated to preserving gaming hardware and software. Winfried reinforced the value of emulators for keeping digital games accessible, and talked about how using them to bring older games to modern computers reduces load on degrading older hardware that can be reallocated for restoration and exhibition. The Computerspielemuseum has over 100 Amiga games, but only 40% of them have currently functional media. We also heard about an open source emulator abstraction layer in use by the Computerspielemuseum called the Keep Emulation Framework, which provides a front end and automation of mounting, etc. to multiple emulators, allowing for libraries of cross platform software to be launched by a single interface.

As the panel wound down, I found time to have a brief conversation with Warren Spector about whether or not there's a capacity to convince game publishers and developers that it's possible to harness and draw business opportunities out of supporting community preservation of older games and reverse engineering (with projects like ScummVM providing examples of how emulation based on reverse engineering can enhance and empower games by making them more accessible on modern platforms - code that could potentially be used in official rereleases, and rom sharing sites helping to keep player bases and potential markets alive). Warren told me he believes that intellectual property law precludes these types of potential synergies between companies unable to maintain older titles and fans who are still passionate about them, and the only way that this sort of stuff will be condonable in the future is through legislative change.

Are games an artefact or and experience? Obviously they're both... but what do we collect? - Helen Stuckley

With two hours to wait until Tim Schafer's evening event, the ACMI building was slowly starting to fill up with attendees who wanted to get in early. I'd touched base with a couple more Double Fine community members, and at one point, one of them rushed up to tell me that Tim was downstairs outside the ACMI shop. I quickly headed down and had a word with Tim, who remembered my questions from Wednesday and was excited to hear that we were organising a backer gathering. Tim suggested I should contact Greg Rice from Double Fine, who might be able to help get the word out, but with time zone differences and short notice, we weren't able to get anything happening. Tim said he'd try to find time to drop by and say hi to us though.

A view of the screen that the In Conversation With Tim Schafer event was broadcast on.

The sold out In Conversation With Tim Schafer event was also being broadcast to the public on a large screen in Federation Square, and I parted ways with some of the Double Fine fans who weren't able to get tickets. The queue for the ticketed event ran outside the ACMI building, and I was lucky enough to be at its head.

We seated ourselves quickly, and as the lights dimmed, Craig Duturbure from Grapple Gun Games was introduced as being the interviewer/conversation foil for Tim. Craig told us he would take us through Tim's career as though he were the archetypal hero of the monomyth. In cotrast to the other Game Master events I had visited over the past few days, the audience sat in wrapped silence, punctuated by bursts of laughter as Tim told his story as prompted by Craig, from his start at LucasArts, finding his mentors there, embarking on the journey of Double Fine, facing and overcoming the trials of Psychonauts' and Brütal Legend's respective cancellations, almost succumbing to the despair of Double Fine's financial troubles, culminating in a rescue by his fans and the gaming community as they showed incredible support for the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter project.

The idea of presenting Tim's career as the hero's journey is immensely compelling, but equally difficult to execute. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, the content did feel a little superficial compared to the much deeper content of the Warren Spector event the previous night.

During the question and answer period, I failed at asking about the differences between game community behaviours and attitudes across the diverse range of platforms Double Fine has developed games for (instead of asking for the ways in which they were different, I asked if they were different, the answer to which was a simple yes). I did manage to squeeze in a joke that got Tim and the audience laughing, and Tim revealed that he considers himself to be platform agnostic though, which was a particularly interesting insight.

Some of the Double Fine Adventure backers with Tim.

After the conversation event concluded, we made our way downstairs to the place we had organised to meet other Double Fine community members. There were eight of us in total (though we later discovered that there were many more queued up for autographs who weren't aware of what we were doing), and Tim came down to chat with us for fifteen minutes or so. We discussed the Double Fine Adventure project with Tim, and suggested ways in which feedback mechanisms could be enhanced and streamlined before he was drawn away to prepare for the signing session. Being a part of a community is always engaging and it was fantastic to meet, talk and strengthen ties with people whose paths I had crossed briefly online.

During the signing, Tim thanked me for organising the backer gathering (something I don't feel I can take sole credit for, as it was discussed by several of us on the forms prior to the event) and shared a couple of jokes whilst signing my Game Masters book and copy of Grim Fandango.

The backer group had grown as more people joined us after having had their books signed, and we discussed games, game development, technology, travel, communities, and other things which escape me now. When the ACMI people told us it was time to lock up the building, we spilled out into the cold night air and parted ways after some community love group hug action with those who were left.

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Day Five: Game Over

A view of the Harmonix exhibit.

After putting some finishing touches on my day four summary, I packed my bags and headed down to the ACMI for one final visit. With the Game Masters launch events over, Mim and I decided to spend our last day in Melbourne immersing ourselves in the exhibition itself.

When I visited the exhibition during the media preview several days ago, the atmosphere was one of reverence, as the games, artwork and developer biographies stood as shrines to some of the gaming industry's greatest legends. By contrast, today the exhibition was thrumming with activity and excitement as people of all ages explored and revisited some of the most notable titles in gaming history whilst discovering and remembering the teams and designers who brought them to life.

The Arcade Heroes section of the exhibition features a cross section of coin operated arcade machines (playable for free) from the 1970s and 1980s highlighting seven developers who, with exceptions like Shigeru Miyamoto, are largely unknown to modern gamers despite the titles themselves being immediately recognisable.

Several of the arcade machines were out of order today (when I came through previously, only Defender was unplayable), but with half a dozen or so titles operational, there was definitely still enough gameplay to get a feel for the eras that the designers being highlighted existed in. The plaques for each developer gave a brief one or two paragraph overview of their career, which I feel perhaps didn't do as much to realise the goal of celebrating these individuals as artistic visionaries as a little more deeper contextual information could have. For example, knowing that Dave Theurer was haunted by nightmares of nuclear bombing during the development of Missile Command, gives us an entirely different perspective of the game as a cultural work and of Dave as a creator, but this sort of information is not covered in any of the developer biographies.

Some 3D printed Spore creatures.

That said, the amount of research that lies behind Game Masters still comes across as impressive and I'm sure will serve as a spark which will inspire some attendees to look deeper into more of these developers' situations.

As mentioned before, the Game Changers section accounts for the bulk of Game Masters' exhibits. The selection of developers covers notable figures from every contemporary mainstream genre - except first person shooters. Sadly this was something I hadn't noticed on my first look through the exhibition, and I hadn't though to ask the curators whether this exemption was intentional or not.

With first person shooters being a driving force behind the adoption of 3D rendering in games, and playing a big hand in making multiplayer game modes common in contemporary games, it's hard to say that they haven't had a significant impact on the gaming industry. So far as my personal preferences go, I find first person shooters to generally have less "soul" and "cultural merit" than other games, but it does feel as though there is a notable absence, particularly when visionary studios like Valve have contributed a greater sense of meaning to their works within the genre that is at the very least noteworthy.

Music and rhythm based games seem to be well represented within the exhibition, with titles from Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5, Rez, Child of Eden) and Paulina Bozek (SingStar) as well as Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy (Frequency, Amplitude, Rock Band, Dance Central). These games seemed to be amongst the most popular as exhibition attendees lingered both to watch others play, and to experience the games for themselves.

A video of Tim Schafer and a real Tim Schafer.

The third and final section, simply titled Indies, was by far the most diverse in terms of titles and developers. Many of the titles could have happily coexisted in one of the other two sections, which begins to indirectly raise the question of what qualifies as "indie". Does "indie" refer to a methodology, an attitude, or a style of end product? Does "indie" apply to titles, or does is it a label that developers wear? Not many of the people I spoke to were thinking about this as much as I was, but all were glad that the selection was there.

Interestingly, the Indies section seemed to have the highest attendee density. This didn't seem to be tied to a particular demographic (though I think that the tighter layout and crowded conditions made navigability difficult for aged/differently abled people), and all of them seemed to be excited and engaged by what they saw.

Alongside most of the exhibits in the Game Changers section were displays with headphones sporting iPads screening interviews with the developers whose works were being showcased. Mim and I found an area towards the back of the exhibition where similar displays allowed viewers to watch any or all of the interviews, and we took the time to watch each, listening to the stories and anecdotes of these influential and inspirational people.

When you compare games to other media, what they do better is create empathy. There's a more realistic feeling of presence. They build atmosphere. So that's also something I'm committed to.- Fumita Ueda

When we emerged from the video viewing area, we found that the number of people in the exhibition had at least doubled, with queues and crowds forming around each display. Playing the games now seemed like an unrealistic expectation, with the wait times looking to be measured in hours. The fascinating outcome was that rather than bored, impatient people, what we saw reminded me of some of my early memories of gaming, when my friends and I would gather around one computer and shout encouragement at each other and participate in gaming as a group or communal activity. The person playing (a role we shared) became the lens through which we saw the game. In the context of Game Masters, this behaviour highlighted to me that the attendees were as much a part of the exhibits as the games themselves, and what better way to see the impact of visionary game developers than to witness their effect on players?

The exhibition ticket queue running out the door on Saturday.

Game Masters looks to be immensely popular and accessible on so many different levels. I witnessed new people discovering these landmark games for the first time, parents sharing their own gaming heritage with their children, hardcore gamers getting a chance to read design documents by, and listen to interviews with their heroes. Most importantly, every person I talked to felt that they were getting something positive out of their experience, and were thinking about games and game developers from new perspectives.

As we left the ACMI building to catch our plane flight home, I noticed that the ticket queue was running well outside the building as people stood outside with smiles on their faces and the fires of anticipation warding off the chilly winter afternoon. If I didn't have to go home, I'd be standing in line again with them.

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This concludes my summary of the Game Masters exhibition and launch events. There are side events running alongside the exhibition until it closes in October 2012. I would definitely recommend checking them out if you're able.

I will be writing a reflective article that attempts to explore potential implications and outcomes at some stage in the future.

A note from the author

A note from Cheese

Thanks for reading!

A big thanks to the ACMI comms staff for looking after me, to the curators, speakers and exhibit providers for putting together such an awesome range of events and content. Thanks to the Double Fine backers who came together to celebrate being Double Fine fans, and thanks to Tim Schafer for giving up some of his time to talk with us.

I met a lot of interesting people during the first week of Game Masters. If anybody wants to get in touch with me, feel free!

You can email me at

This article was first published on the 26th of June 2012.